November 29

Re-Situate “Curriculum”

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Ayers (2010) presents the struggle that every teacher experiences throughout their entire career: Defining curriculum as a “means to” rather than an “end goal”. The curriculum outlines the important aspects of learning that students should demonstrate throughout each year of their education. However, we cannot allow this curriculum to be the only accepted learning in our classrooms.

Teamwork, initiative, responsibility, interpersonal relationships… these are all skills that are important aspects of learning that perhaps aren’t explicitly outlined in the curriculum. Also, what about the teachable moments that arise each and every day in our classrooms? Should we refuse to build on those, simply because they are not outlined in the curriculum? What if a student wants to solve a particular problem that is covered in a later grade? Should we delay this learning to ensure that everyone’s education is at the same pace?

Curriculum
As every educator should do, we must re-situate our initial understandings of “curriculum”. Ayers poses an number of interesting questions that guide his approach to implementing a curriculum:

  1. Are challenges from classroom to community fair game for investigation?
  2. Are there opportunities for discovery and surprise?
  3. Are students actively engaged with primary sources and hands on materials?
  4. Is productive work going on?
  5. Is the work linked to student questions or interests?
  6. Is work in my classroom pursued to its far limits?

There is so much more to student learning than what is outlined in the mandated curriculum. I am by no means “rebelling” against these documents; in fact, I place extremely value on these documents as they truly do guide teaching and learning. However, I do believe that we as teachers must do more than simply follow the curriculum. We must create these situations in which students can explore and learn to become efficient learners, rather than focusing all efforts on ensuring each students achieves every specific expectation outlined in their grade level.

curriculum

November 19

To Kill the Indian in the Child: The Apology

“At 3:00 p.m. exactly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appeared on the screen and the crowd fell silent” (p. 165).

From the early 1830s to 1996, thousands of First Nation, Inuit, and Metis children were forced to attend residential schools in an attempt to aggressively assimilate them into the dominant culture. During Stephen Harper’s speech, which proves to me a monumental moment in Canadian history, he says:

“I stand before you – in this chamber so central to our life as a country to apologize to Aboriginal peoples for Canada’s role in the Indian Residential Schools system” (p. 167).

Residential Schools
Despite the importance of this moment between the Canadian government and the affected Aboriginal peoples, it was not universally received as a positive apology. It is always difficult when individuals of a marginalized group continue to feel as though the apology and the means in place of rectifying the injustice are insufficient. There continue to be individuals who take the “too little too late” response, accepting that an effort was made but refusing to recognize it as sufficient.

My questions is: What apology would be sufficient? Should they receive a massive monetary compensation for the disgusting and inhuman actions that took place within the residential schools? Should there be a First Nations, Inuit, and Metis subject introduced in schools to educate students on what really happened? What can we do as a country to make everyone feel proud of being a Canadian?

These will never be easy questions to answer. Hundreds of years from now, when there are no living victims of the residential school system, there will still be hard feelings because it still happened, affecting the ancestors of many families. So where does that leave us? Is there anything we can do? Perhaps not to the standards that will be universally accepted. However, with each action of rectifying the situation, more and more people are learning to start anew. As Knockwood shares in Out of the Depths (2015):

“My main reaction to this formal apology was to feel that although I wasn’t able to forgive the government and the church for what they did to my parents and ancestors by legislation, I was ready to accept the apology. […] This would also be a new start for me, and mentally I turned a new page and wrote the word “pride” on it.” (p. 169).

Residential Schools2

November 13

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Yesterday, I wrote a post about EQAO testing. To continue with the theme of standardization, let’s take a look at PISA.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international survey that is administered every 3 years. PISA aims to evaluate education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students. PISA discusses what makes them different on their website:

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

Just like the EQAO standardized test, PISA has created large debates within countries around the world regarding where they rank in comparison to the other countries. Here is a televised discussion regarding Canada’s PISA ranking:

What are your thoughts on standardization, either within Ontario (EQAO) or in relation to countries worldwide (PISA)?

November 12

Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)

Standardized testing is a very controversial subject within the education system. The goal of standardized tests are to outline the achievements and shortcomings of schools within a specific subjects, as compared to other schools within a similar area. EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) is an example of a standardized test within Ontario. EQAO seeks to measure Ontario students’ achievement in reading, writing and math at key stages of their education, such as grade 3 and 6. Here is a video outlining more about this process and mass amount of work that goes into creating these tests:

However, there are many opposing views to standardized testing. Tests perhaps aren’t the best representation of a student’s understanding of a particular subject. Questions are also raised surrounding the idea that Mathematics and Language are being placed at a higher importance than the other subjects simply because they are the only subjects represented in the EQAO tests. There is also a lot of money that is put into these tests that could be put elsewhere in the education system.

The EQAO test has also created some controversy by publishing the results of every school on their website. For example, here are the results for the school that I am completing my Community Service Learning and practicum at:

EQAO - Pinecrest Junior
Alternatively, here are the results from the school that I attended elementary school:

EQAO - St. Matthew Junior
The differences between these two schools are significant to say the least. Does this mean that my elementary school provided a better education than the other school? Perhaps. But also, perhaps not. Standardized tests provide a very narrow view of whether or not students are capable of achieving a high grade on a written test for a specific subject. There are many variables that go into the EQAO scores, yet these results are displayed at face value on an open forum. This could lead to the formation of a negative impression of a school, discouraging families from sending their students to that school or even living close to it.

Should standardized tests be administrated? Should their results be available to the public or used specifically for internal knowledge and making the schools better?

 

November 3

Indian Residential Schools’ Impact on Canadian Education

I’ll admit, History was not one of my favourite subjects growing up. The way it was taught felt like stories rather than realities. The focus was on devastating harms committed over 50 years ago in countries that seemed to be on the other side of the world. The approach was “this is what happened and this is why we should never do it again”. But what about the devastating harms that occurred right in our own backyards? Why aren’t those topics at the forefront of our history classes? As Canadian’s, should there be a larger focus on being taught information that has a personal connection to each and every one of us, which may even lead us to work towards uniting everyone in our country?

We Were Children
The video We Were Children shares the harsh realities of residential schools in Canada:

“Beginning in the late 1850’s, over 150,000 Aboriginal children were legally forced to attend Indian residential schools in Canada. The schools were part of a wider program of assimilation designed to integrate the Aboriginal population into “Canadian society.” At their peak in the 1950’s, there were 80 Indian Residential schools across the country. Today there are over 80,000 Indian Residential school survivors. The last Indian Residential school closed in 1996” (We Were Children, 2012).

Decolonizing EducationThere was so much pain suffered by First Nations, Inuit, and Metis (FNIM) peoples in our country, and yet teachers and the government gloss over or skip altogether the realities of our country’s past. This paints a picture of continual denial, neglecting to incorporate these lessons into our so-called perfect Eurocentric education approach. As Battiste outlines in her book Decolonizing Education:

“Eurocentric education policies and attempts at assimilation have contributed to major global losses in Indigenous languages and knowledge, and to persistent poverty among Indigenous peoples” (page 25).

The difficult part for the teacher is deciding how to address the issue and the pain of what happened, without turning it into just another history lesson routed in this Eurocentric framework. How do we address this important part of our country’s heritage without placing all FNIM students on a pedestal? What is the best way to present this topic so that students can become aware, learn from the mistakes of the people before us, and use this knowledge to make the world a safer, more inclusive place?

I believe that as more and more people accept the reality of what happened to FNIM people and as education policy adopts a restorative approach to fully including these students in our education, we can begin to heal as a population. The importance of this topic is not to simply teach students, but to make them think and feel. Ayers states:

Ayers
As Prime Minister Harper admitted in the public apology to First Nations individuals, the residential school system, unfortunately, was very effective in its goal of destroying the Indian in the child. It’s time to celebrate First Nations history, culture, language, ceremony, and worldviews. By incorporating this knowledge consistently throughout the Canadian curriculum, we will not only ensure increased academic success for indigenous students’, but we will also education all students to love their neighbour and cherish our differences.

October 20

Stop, COLLABORATE, and Listen

Collaboration
I know of way too many teachers to come to school in the morning, close their door, attend to their students, and leave at the end of the day. This isolation is a harsh reality for many teachers in the profession. While some may view this trend as demonstrating full attention to students, this may not be the most beneficial thing for their learning. It is very important that teachers learn to adopt an “open door policy” when it comes to collaborating with their teaching peers.

As someone who loves collaborating with others, it seems like a daunting task to block out other teacher’s ideas and focus on what I am doing. Not to mention, it may not be the most beneficial thing for my students. As Cooper suggests:

“With so little planning time available and so much vital work to be accomplished, we must harness the power of web technology to ‘work smarter, not harder’” (page 233).

Just as the web is a great resource to improve our teaching practice, other teachers in our school are a direct resource that we can use to our, and our student’s, advantage. I think it’s imperative that teachers have a consistent time and place where they can get together with their colleagues to talk and collaborate on ideas. This is a time to talk about what’s working and what isn’t working, gather ideas on what to do with the student that just won’t do anything, vent frustrations, and perhaps even split the workload!

Collaboration2Especially as someone who is currently a teacher candidate, collaboration is key. I like to hear innovated ideas that other teachers have implemented to improve learning for their students. Unfortunately, much of the time teachers have to collaborate is during their lunch periods. If teachers don’t reach out to one another to collaborate, there may never be the opportunity to learn from one another, which brings us back to the “show up, teacher, go home” trend.

Ideally, there would be some kind of system that can be put in place to make collaboration feasible and encouraged among teachers. This can be with teachers of the same subject, same grade level, or teachers who have worked with the same students before. Additionally, Cooper speaks of the importance to collaborate with all kinds of teachers:

“While it’s natural to collaborate with a colleague who teaches the same course, it can be just as valuable to work with a teacher in a different department” (page 238).

When teachers collaborate, teaching practices improve, teacher performance increases, and student receive a well-rounded education. Seems like the right approach to me…

Collaboration3

January 8

Male Teachers

The shortage of male teachers is a topic that has been heavily discussed in the education system, especially in the last few years. I constantly hear that the job market is flooded with teachers looking for employment, and that it will be a few years until many will be able to find work. Yet, when I tell people that I am pursuing my dream of becoming an elementary school teacher, they reply with, “You’re male and you want to teach at the elementary level – You won’t have any trouble finding a job!”

If this is the case, I often wonder where all the male teachers are? Do they not want to work with children? Is the salary too low? I was born with the passion of teaching, but maybe I’m a rare breed?

The image below really puts the topic of male teachers into perspective; their prevalence in schools, why the numbers are so low, and what the system can do to correct this imbalance.

Male Teachers